The President and Vice President Speak at the Swearing-In of Maria Contreras-Sweet as SBA Administrator

April 07, 2014 | 18:17 | Public Domain

President Obama says he nominated Maria Contreras-Sweet as Administrator of the Small Business Administration because "she knows first-hand the challenges that small businesses go through -- and she has a proven track record of helping them succeed."

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Remarks by the President, Vice President, and SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet at Swearing-In Ceremony

South Court Auditorium

3:35 P.M EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, everybody please have a seat. 
I just wanted to stop by and congratulate Maria on officially being sworn in as the head of the SBA. 

I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here today, as well as the terrific staff at the SBA for helping America’s small businesses succeed, and who have been holding down the fort until we got this confirmation through.

I nominated Maria because she knows first-hand the challenges that small businesses go through -- and she has a proven track record of helping them succeed.  She was California’s Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, and in that role she was the driving force behind major public investments in job-creating industries.  As the founder of the ProAmerica Bank, she supported Latino entrepreneurs throughout Los Angeles. 

So Maria understands that small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy.  They represent the promise that if you work hard in this country, you can succeed and you can help your children do even better. 

And that’s why this administration has been so focused on helping small businesses succeed from day one.  We cut taxes 18 times for small businesses in my first term.  We’ve helped more than 200,000 small businesses get loans supported by the SBA.  Today, our economy is growing and our businesses have created almost 9 million jobs, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are small businesses out there who are making things happen every single day.

But we can always do more.  And that’s why having such a hard charger as Maria, who knows both the entrepreneurial side as well as public service, is so important.  When I announced her nomination back in January, I was absolutely confident that she was going to do a terrific job.  And I am no less confident today.

I understand she already had meetings this morning.  She didn’t really wait for the ceremony -- (laughter) -- to start meeting with some of our veterans and women-owned businesses, and Latino and African American-owned businesses.  And she’s going to be out there I know listening to small businesses, working with our other agencies that are in charge of helping businesses grow.  And I’m confident that by the end of her tenure she’s really going to have made her mark and made a difference.  And, of course, she also has a really beautiful family, which is good too.  (Applause.)

So with that, Biden is in charge of the next state of this thing.  (Laughter.)  And he always does a great job.  And it’s not that many lines -- (laughter) -- so hopefully we’ll get them right.  We had a few problems my first time out, but second time went smoothly.  And Joe has done this a lot.

So congratulations again, Maria.  (Applause.) 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, Maria, you brought out the first team here.  I can see that Congress is in full array here and anchored by Secretary Jack Lew at the end of the aisle there.
Folks, Ray, thank you for being willing to do this.  And I mean that sincerely.  All the members of the House here know that no one does a job on their own, that if their spouse isn’t in on the deal, it doesn't work.  And so thank you for being willing to do this.  And, Francesca, it’s a pleasure to meet you, as well as Antonio.  And I understand your sister Anna is here?


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Hey, sis.  How are you?  Welcome, welcome.  (Applause.)

Look, the history of the journey of this country, in my view, has been the promise that anything is possible, that anything is possible in the United States of America. 

And, Maria, I think you’re living proof of that, the vitality of that promise.  Maria came to the United States from Mexico as a young child not speaking a single word of English.  But, Maria, you worked hard.  You stayed in school, and you remembered what your grandmother -- a migrant worker -- told you that one day that you’d be able to work in an office.  You’d be a secretary.  (Laughter.)   I don't think she had this in mind.  (Laughter.)  But I tell you what, you did become a secretary -- Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing in the state of California.  And as I said, I’m not sure your grandmom had this in mind, but I don't think she has any doubt about it, as she looks down, that you’ve become whatever you wanted to be.

You also became vice president of the 7-UP Bottling Company; co-founder of a private equity fund focusing on Hispanic businesses; founded the first Hispanic-owned business bank in California in over 30 years.  And the common thread here is you’ve never forgotten to look back.  You know that -- the business potential in the Hispanic community, and you’ve known it.  You’ve nurtured it, and you’ve helped it at every turn because you know everyone here -- what everyone here today knows, that the Hispanic business community is absolutely central -- central -- to this country’s growth.  Hispanics in this country start businesses three times as often as on the national average as any other group of Americans.

And right now there are about 3.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses across the country, contributing almost a half a trillion dollars to the American economy.  Not all of them are small businesses.  Some of them are pretty big that used to be small, and that's exactly what we want to happen.  And that's why since we took office, the Small Business Administration has helped Hispanic-owned businesses secure 16,000 loans of over $6 billion and garnered over $41 billion in prime contacts with the federal government, and in no small part because of our friends in the Congress.

And just as important is the growth of women-owned businesses in this country.  Over the past 40 years, women have gone from owning 5 percent of all small businesses in America, today owning 30 percent.  That's why the Small Business Administration has increased lending to women-owned businesses by 31 percent just since 2009.

And they’ve also opened new doors to 23 new businesswomen centers which have trained and counseled more than 270,000 women in America.

Small businesses represent a fundamental American promise that if you work hard, if you just get a chance, there’s nothing that can't be done.  And, Maria, I have every confidence in the world that you’ll do everything in your power to give all of America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs the chance that they dream of.

And so it’s now my pleasure, Maria, to swear you in and perform the oath of office here. 

[The oath is administered.]  (Applause.)

Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for those very generous words.  I also want to thank the President for his confidence and for giving me this opportunity to be an advocate for America’s 28 million small businesses; and to Representatives Becerra, Garcia, Hinojosa, Napolitano, and Roybal-Allard, and Secretary Lew for being here today.  I want to thank the members of the Senate for their vote of confidence.  I look forward to working with all the members of Congress.

My journey from Guadalajara to this house today is one that could only happen in America.  And that journey has not been a lonely one.  Thank you to my family, my friends, my associates, who have made my entire career a prologue to the position I assume today.

I want to give special thanks to the SBA partners and stakeholders who are here today, and for your patience and support throughout this entire process.  I know how hard you worked behind the scenes so that I could be standing here before you today and I'm so grateful.

I want to thank my family -- of course, my husband, Ray, who everywhere he goes he says, I'm the one who made her sweet.  (Laughter and applause.)  To my three wonderful children, two of whom are here today -- one is in the middle of a very good case that we sure hope it was worth it and that he wins -- and of course, to Francesca Maria and to Antonio Kenneth. 

My mother worked so hard her entire life to give her six children opportunities she would never have.  And my dear grandmother who told me I could be a secretary someday, but a Cabinet Secretary?  Never in her wildest dreams.  I came to this country at the age of 5 with my mom and five siblings.  We didn’t have much, but what we did have was an abundance of hope.  We didn’t speak the language yet -- neither the business language, nor or the English language.  But my grandmother taught us to believe in the promise of America. 

This country was founded by risk-takers, resourceful pioneers who built this prosperous nation.  Entrepreneurialism is in our heritage.  The American Dream has always been about the opportunity to earn a good education and the keys to own your home.  But the expanding American Dream is also about the opportunity to start your own business.  I've lived that dream.  And as the SBA Administrator, I'm determined to help others realize theirs as well.

Some small businesses employ one out of two workers today in America.  SBA is a driving force that helps propel this economic activity.  SBA provides access to capital, contracting opportunities, and consultation through a national network of partners, and of course, disaster relief loans. 

I'm energized to begin this work on behalf of the nation’s entrepreneurs who wish so much to start new businesses and create most of our new jobs.  I've already had a busy first morning on the job.  I met with our disaster assistance team, which is on the ground in Washington State, following the presidential declaration to assist those impacted by the devastating mudslide. I also met with a group of veterans to thank them and to explore how more of our military heroes can use their skills to become successful small business owners.

I recall when John F. Kennedy said, all of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.  I've come to realize that access to the American Dream means access to capital.  Entrepreneurs are the difference-makers in our economy. 

I've seen the pivotal role that SBA plays in our entrepreneurial ecosystem.  I was both a community banker and an SBA lender.  I was a small business owner whose small business helped small businesses every day.  As the bank chairwoman, I examined business plans, their viability and management’s ability to execute.  The only thing that I understood was that they strengthened my knowledge of the challenges that small businesses face.  It also strengthened my resolve to help them overcome those hurdles and succeed.

When I started my first business almost 20 years ago, I experienced the same challenges that entrepreneurs face today.  On any given day, I'd be called upon to be the company’s human resources director, the CFO, the spokesperson, or even the chief sales officer, all the while competing against larger firms in highly competitive markets.  Today’s small business owners multitask their way through similar days, relying on their determination, the courage of their convictions, and the power of their entrepreneurial spirit.

At the SBA, we're working to create the next American success story.  SBA lending has helped launch businesses on the path to the Fortune 500 -- companies like Apple, and FedEx.  SBA helped launch an iconic American ice cream brand -- Ben and Jerry’s.  SBA even helped six small businesses partner together with NASA to launch the Mars Rover Curiosity, which is exploring the surface of the planet as we speak.

As Administrator, my mission is to make the SBA an agency that's as innovative as the small businesses that we serve.  Two out of three new jobs in America are created by small businesses. Millions of middle-class families are working for folks who depend on the SBA’s ability to facilitate access to capital, counseling and contracting opportunities.  We must draw on technology to streamline the process of working with the SBA to make it easier for borrowers to access capital and easier for lenders to lend.  The SBA must be nimble, agile to keep pace with our digital age. 

Do you remember when a bank was only a tall building you walked into to do business with a teller or a loan officer?  Then ATMs came along and transformed our relationship to our banks.  Today, Americans can use their smartphone to scan their checks and make deposits out of their living room. 

The SBA must anticipate the kinds of rapid changes that are transforming how Americans access financial services so that our products are accessible and that they’re relevant to the technological age.  Demographic changes also require fresh thinking.  We know that there are more retired people who are looking to start a second career, to be their own boss.  There are more women, more minorities seeking to join the entrepreneurial class.  And the data shows that immigrants are twice as likely to file patents and twice as likely to start a new enterprise.  Think about that -- twice as likely to file patents and twice as likely to start a new enterprise.

As Administrator, I plan to embrace them all with a broad, inclusive vision.  I’m determined to get more loans into the hands of entrepreneurs who reflect the diversity of America.  We know SBA lending to African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic American-owned businesses, as well as women-owned businesses can lift up entire communities.  SBA must do more Main Street business -- help more Main Street businesses seeking loans.  We will do this by making it easier for community banks and micro lenders to become our partners.

Through our vast resource network, we can strengthen entrepreneurial education, which is so important to 1 million people who get game-changing SBA counseling every year.  We will seed startup businesses focused on high-growth areas like advanced manufacturing.  We must build bridges with rural communities as well as the urban centers alike.  They’re exporting more and are integrated into the global supply chain every day.  With the President’s support, I’m going to collaborate with my Cabinet colleagues to make sure more government contracts are awarded to our nation’s small businesses. 

I’m eager to get to work to help our entrepreneurs grow their companies and the American economy along with it.  At the SBA, taking care of business has been our business for 61 years. This agency has been a pivotal force in America’s economic comeback story.  But, ladies and gentlemen, we’re only getting started. 

So thank you again, Mr. Vice President, for this very special opportunity.  Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get down to business.  (Laughter.)  And I invite you to join me on Twitter at #gettingdowntobusiness -- (laughter) -- to begin that dialogue today.  God bless you and God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.  (Applause.)
3:53 P.M. EDT

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